Channel 4’s Electric Dreams is a new science fiction series based on the short stories of the wildly imaginative writer Philip K Dick. Each is a self-contained and unconnected story.
It’s got some accomplished writers and directors including The Night Manager’s David Farr and Stranger Things’ Jessica Mecklenburg. And some big-name stars such as Anna Paquin, Bryan Cranston and Timothy Spall.
The first episode, The Hood Maker, is excellent. It looks like a current or even old fashioned Britain.
Honor (Holliday Grainger) is a Teep forced to work with the authorities as they crack down on dissent.
The Teeps are an oppressed group with telepathic powers who the police use to keep a check on dissent.
But someone has developed a hood that blocks mindreading, and is distributing it to the rebellious poor.
In the more comic Impossible Planet two seedy guys run Astral Dreams, a tourist agency.
Its spaceship offers stunning views of the galaxy’s most amazing sites, which are actually digitally created on screens.
An old woman (Geraldine Chaplin) asks to be taken to the forgotten planet Earth.
The two guys imagine that fooling her into believing that they’ve found Earth should be easy.
So far the plots for Electric Dreams are taken from Dick’s work in the early 1950s when he was developing his talent.
The first two episodes have been extensively reworked from the original material—in the case of Impossible Planet the twist ending is changed.
The programme makers have had to update old futures. Both episodes increase the diversity in the stories by having more active roles for women and more non-white characters.
Dick became a cult writer in the 1960s. His stories began showing less interest in scientific advances and more in their psychological and political implications.
By the time of his best novels, such as Ubik, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch or Valis, he was presenting paranoid visions of future capitalist systems.
In Ubik, argumentative doors charged residents to leave their own homes.
His fictions focused on what is real—and how it may be impossible to tell if it is.
He became famous after his death as Hollywood made films from his books. The recent TV series of his novel, The Man in the High Castle, shows a renewed interest in his work. His loathing of authority and siding with the little person fit with a current mood.
Few adaptations have equalled the philosophical complexity of Dick’s books.
From a promising start, hopefully the Electric Dreams series will continue and take on some of the author’s mature work.